Top 10 Rioja Wines of 2011

Learn to love the best of Rioja


Rioja is a region you must explore in 2012. The wines are simply too good to ignore and they are continuing to improve. Producers are learning where to join the line with more modern interpretations of Rioja, and even the traditionalists can’t argue that they benefit from increasing awareness and improvement of viticultural and cellaring concerns.

To get you going, here’s my top 10 list of best Rioja of 2011. See which ones ring your bell and learn to love the best of Rioja!

Photo courtesy Marcel Theisen via Flickr/CC

2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial

If it seems like I can’t stop talking about this wine, you’re right. It’s the best value of the year in my book and a wine I stocked my cellar with. For just around $30, it’s almost impossible to find more to love in a wine.

Light and elegant on the nose. Vanilla oak topped layers of leather, medicine, mint, chalk and teriyaki dried beef elements accent a bright core of wild cherry. Smooth and rich in the mouth, this is powerful yet not that large. The berry fruit, both fresh and dried, is accented by earth and spice notes. A fine bitter cherry element drives the moderately long finish. This is brilliant, layered, structured, faceted and transparent. It’s about as good as it gets. 94pts

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2006 Ramon Bilbao Mirto $60

I first tasted this at the 2011 Tempranillo al Mundo blind tasting, and while I didn’t know it at the time, it was to go on to be the only Great Gold Medal Winner of the event. Unfortunately, my notes at Tempranillo al Mundo were collected by the judging official, but seeing as I only awarded a single gold medal, this wine most certainly is the wine that blew me away.

Explosively rich and powerful, yet remaining graceful and elegant, it’s a style of Rioja I really love. Judging from the other wines from Ramon Bilbao that I had previously tasted, it is a style that this house has mastered. Not inexpensive. It is a wine that shows what powerful Rioja can achieve and should be very long lived.

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2008 Dinastia Vivanco 4 Varietales $70

I loved this wine from the get go. It’s unabashedly modern and perhaps more Chateauneuf-like than Rioja-like in the ways each varietal expressed itself. It epitomizes the heights that modern Rioja can achieve.

This is simply an explosively fruity, deep and rich wine, though it remains remarkably well defined. In the mouth, one finds powerfully rich yet fresh blackberry fruits paired with some assertive and New World-styled, oak induced flavors. The fruit powers through on the finish, which shows intense floral, leather and black spice elements that really make the fruit pop. This is a bold wine, leaning slightly more towards a New World style, yet it does so with some finesse and elegance. Great wine. 93pts

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Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Reserva $40

No one does traditional Rioja like Lopez de Heredia, and while bottle variation always seems an issue here, the wines are so wonderfully pure, expressive and complex that it’s worth trying them and then trying them again. I usually prefer the Tondonia bottling in most vintages, but in 2001, the Bosconia was my pick.

Earthy and funky at first with eggshell and soil notes, this blossoms slowly with raspberry and wild strawberry tones accented with dried citron peel. Light and fresh in the mouth, this shows some nutty oak up front before laying down a pure, crisp mid-palate replete with crystal clear raspberry fruit. This is high acid without being acidic and displays rare elegance and finesse with its soft and rich yet bright mouthfeel. 93pts

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2001 Marques de Murrieta Ygay Gran Reserva $50

If you’re looking for more power and depth in a Rioja that has a proven track record for ageing effortlessly for decades, look no further than the Ygay, a rare wine produced only in the best vintages. The 2001 seems a bit soft to my palate, but is still packed with youthful exuberance even at age 10!

Sweet and intensely fruity on the nose, the jammy full red fruit recalls gummy bears! There’s integrate oak spice here that lends a rather cinnamon tone to the nose, but ultimately reveals a very deep and complex array of aromatics. A touch soft in the mouth, this exhibits lovely richness. Shows a touch of dried plummy richness and remains a bit chunky and chewy through the modest finish. This is a wine of power and should improve with additional cellaring. 92pts

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  • Well, color me convinced. As a result of Greg's enthusiasm along with recently tasting a 2001 Bodega Muga Prado Enea, I've decided to start buying and cellaring as much Rioja as I can afford. It's good to know you don't have to be a millionaire to drink like one. I just bought two 05's from my local merchant: Bodega LAN and Marques de Murrieta Finca Ygay (both Reservas). Any thoughts on the vintage? Long term potential?

    Jan 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM

  • To Brewtown-Brian: Vintage 2005 is one of the better in past decade. After the (superiorly) best 2001 (similar quality to 1994), 2004 and 2005 are worth buying and storing. Bodega LAN is quite good producer, but MdM YGAY is great one. Cheers :-)

    Jan 18, 2012 at 5:53 PM

  • Snooth User: Jwubina
    944223 1

    Wow! I bought 2 bottles of the Vina Ardanza Gran Reserva 2001 and the next day ordered more! It's reassuring to learn that a rank amateur's taste has been confirmed by a pro!

    Jan 18, 2012 at 6:04 PM

  • Snooth User: hlopez99
    271856 53

    California producers take note!!, Rioja wines are a better wines at rock bottom prices!!

    Jan 18, 2012 at 11:37 PM

  • Snooth User: stefcom
    116154 8

    Rioja as wine-region has got everything, you need to produce excellent wines. If there only weren't those often masking aromas of vanilla, cocolate and coffee from intensely used new barriques. Time for a change!

    Jan 19, 2012 at 12:41 AM

  • Snooth User: cabluvr
    74295 145

    I have been a fan of tempranillo and monastrell wines for several years now. Not only are they great QPR's, they're generally very nice wines. On Greg's recommendation, I purchased 4 bottles of the 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. I opened the first after letting it rest for a few weeks and found nothing close to the descriptions published here. I'm hoping that this was an isolated bottle issue and that the remaining three bottles resemble Greg's remarks.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:15 AM

  • Snooth User: jcbwine
    962675 34

    Please remove "Facebook, Twitter, like me - don't like me" crap from the pages. It covers your text and stays onscreen when you scroll. There's no 'close' button.

    Otherwise, I enjoy your take on affordable wines. Me gusta mucho Tempranillo!

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:36 AM

  • Snooth User: Rich Tomko
    Hand of Snooth
    103444 2,868

    great choices Gregory -- especially digging the Lopez de Heredia and the Dinastia Vivanco. My current fav is the 2001 Altanza Lealtanza Rioja Gran Reserva. Go magnum, if able,

    Jan 19, 2012 at 2:40 PM

  • Just drinking 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. Cheers all :-)

    Jan 19, 2012 at 3:44 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Lucky you! How's it showing?

    Jan 19, 2012 at 3:52 PM

  • To Gregory: it is not showing. It is here, alive and kicking! Going to purchase some more on Saturday. As you said in your blog, there are few such great wines for such reasonable price. Rioja rules!

    Btw, had close encounter of 4th kind with Rioja wines last Friday. Not bad, but totally different stile than La Rioja Alta ones. (hope you would not consider this as a spam).

    Cheers :-)

    Jan 19, 2012 at 4:31 PM

  • Meant "style". Sorry for mistype :-(

    Jan 19, 2012 at 4:39 PM

  • Snooth User: willit63
    1020114 15

    I wonder if there could be some mistake since I don't see Marques de Riscal mentioned above. This is the wine that basically put Rioja on the map, and has maintained consistent quality for many years.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 9:59 PM

  • Snooth User: Farna
    1026322 51

    I love it. It is a classical style, mixed with a touch of modernity.
    The color is deep, but pretty evolutioned. Bright, special.
    The aroma is complex, hard to define, difficult to explain.
    In the mouth, long sensation, deep too. Elegant. arrogant too.
    Old and young... both.
    I love it.

    Jan 26, 2012 at 5:45 PM

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